One of the cornerstones of good health is adequate sleep. But more than 30 percent of people suffer from insomnia and that number rises to 40 to 60 percent for people over 60. If you’re one of these people, there are lifestyle changes and naturopathic approaches that may help you get the sleep you need.
Why is getting an adequate amount of sleep important? A number of health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, a suppressed immune system, and endocrine disorders have been linked to not getting enough sleep. Some studies have also found a connection between lack of sleep and premature aging and the worsening of chronic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and kidney disease.
Changes you can make to improve sleep
There are a number of lifestyle changes that researchers have found can help lessen the severity of insomnia, including:
- behavioral therapy and listening to relaxation tapes before bed
- 15- to 20- minute hot bath with Epsom salts
- eating a light, high-carb snack such as bread or crackers, which increases serotonin levels and reduces anxiety
- 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least four times a week, though not close to bedtime
If you have occasional, rather than chronic, insomnia, studies have found that napping can help you sleep better at night and diminish sleepiness during the day. A 20- to 30-minute nap can not only help you get the rest you need, but some studies have found a relationship between napping and a decreased risk for many of the health problems related to insomnia.
Naturopathic approaches to insomnia
There are several naturopathic medicine approaches that researchers have found effective for lessening the severity of insomnia for some patients.
Acupuncture: One preliminary study found that 7 to 10 days of acupuncture resulted in 59 percent of the participants recovering normal sleep patterns.
Valerian extract: Has been studied for sleep disturbance, and in one clinical trial, an herbal valerian extract worked as well as the prescription medication oxazepam. Study participants reported an easier time falling asleep and better quality sleep after taking the extract. A combination of valerian and lemon balm was found to be as effective as the prescription sleeping pill Halcion in another study. In addition, the people who took the herbal medicines did not experience mental fogginess and trouble concentrating the next day while those who took Halcion did experience these after effects.
L-tryptophan: This amino acid is part of the body’s process of producing serotonin and it has been found in a number of studies, including double-blind trials, to improve sleep.
Melatonin: Limited double-blind studies have demonstrated that melatonin may facilitate sleep in certain patient populations. However, because melatonin is a powerful hormone and the effects of long-term use have not been established, it’s important to only take a melatonin supplement under the supervision of an experienced naturopathic physician.
Tart cherry juice: One recent study found that drinking eight ounces of tart cherry juice twice a day helped older adults sleep 90 more minutes per night. The researchers found that compounds that give the cherries their color increased the availability and inhibited the degradation of L-tryptophan.
Lavender oil: Inhaling the aroma of lavender oil before bedtime was found in a number of studies to improve the quality of sleep. One recent study linked the use of lavender aromatherapy with improved sleep for women between the ages of 45 and 55, a period when many women experience sleep disturbances as a result of the onset of menopause.
If you’re living with insomnia, a health advisor can connect you with naturopathic physicians who have experience treating people with sleep disorders so that you can develop a treatment plan to help you get the sleep you need to protect your overall health.